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Vagabond Valentines: Six Romantic Retreats : Getaways: Couples may also find some lovable prices during long holiday weekend at lodgings in San Francisco, Santa Cruz area, Cambria and Ventura.


Valentine's Day comes with a bonus this year. Thanks to Presidents Day on Feb. 15, the holiday falls in the middle of a three-day weekend, a happenstance likely to inspire a boom in romantic retreating. With an eye toward that weekend--and toward any other getaway opportunity in weeks or months to come--the Chicago-based travel newsletter Passport has some ideas. So do I.

Me first. Here, skipping down the coast from north to south, is a foursome of romantic yet reasonable lodgings that I've stayed in or walked through in the last two years. Some may already be fully booked for the weekend of the 14th, but they're worth keeping in mind for next month, or next year.

* San Francisco, near the wharf. The Tuscan Inn opened in June, 1990, offering 221 rooms on the site of an old cannery at Northpoint and Mason streets, two blocks from Fisherman's Wharf. Aiming for an intimate European mood, the Tuscan has a fireplace in its lobby, and offers its guests Italian coffee, tea and biscotti there every morning. Stopping by one evening to visit relatives (who pronounced their stay there pleasant), I found "the wine hour" in progress--free lobby service for guests. There's no pool, but within a few blocks are the shops of Pier 39 and Ghirardelli Square and the waterfront cable car turnaround at Taylor Street. Standard rates begin at $148 for double rooms, $198 for junior suites. Two year-round specials are worth noting: The "Stay and Mangia" package ($129-$189 per night, depending on rooms and occupancy) includes a room for two, a $25 meal or drink credit at the first-rate Cafe Pescatore downstairs and free overnight parking (which is otherwise $13); the "Romeo and Juliet" package (starting at $169) includes the $25 food or drink credit, a bottle of wine, two keepsake glasses, free parking, a red rose at check-in, gourmet chocolates and bubble bath soap. And since Valentine's Day falls on Sunday this year, guests that weekend can arrange for checkout as late as 6 p.m. for no extra charge.

The Tuscan Inn, 425 Northpoint, San Francisco 94133; (800) 648-4626 or (415) 561-1100, fax ( 415 ) 561-1199.

* Bed, breakfast and beach, north of Santa Cruz. Forgive them for the length of their name. The New Davenport Cash Store, Restaurant and Bed & Breakfast, a 12-room enterprise, is perched on a bluff above the Pacific, 10 miles north of Santa Cruz and 40 miles south of Half Moon Bay. Davenport, which sustains a population of about 200, is an old whaling village and the Cash Store is its spiritual and commercial hub. Owners Bruce and Marcia McDougal arrived about 15 years ago, took over the site of an old general store, and set out first to run a pottery school. "It evolved," reports B&B manager Doreen Devorah.

Now, on the shoulder of California 1 stands a varied operation. Downstairs, there's a craft shop with imports and work of local artisans, and a restaurant with American cuisine (entrees around $12-$15) and acoustic performers. Upstairs, there are eight rooms with private baths and French doors that open onto a common veranda with ocean views. Interiors, clearly the product of more attention than most hotel rooms get, are a global mix of craftwork and colorful textiles. Room rates for two run $90-$95 nightly, except for the larger corner suite, which includes a double bed and a queen bed and fetches $115. In a cottage next door, without ocean views, are four more units, which run $60-$75 nightly. Breakfast is part of the deal. There's a path down to the beach just across the coast highway, and about 10 miles north are Big Basin Redwoods State Preserve and Ano Nuevo State Preserve, which this time of year often features a special treat: the sight and sound of mating elephant seals.

Davenport Cash Store / Bed & Breakfast, Box J , Davenport 95017; (408) 425-1818, or 426-4122 for the restaurant.

* Cambria, by the sea. There are about 15 hotels along waterfront Moonstone Beach Drive in Cambria, pine-studded hillsides rising beyond them into the mist. The Fog Catcher Inn is the newest of the lot, having opened in April, 1992, and the most striking. Its walls are lined with stones, and its roof was built of thatch-style shingles that look like they've been imported from the English countryside. The inn includes 60 units, but somehow holds onto the feel of a smaller place, its interiors filled with country pine furniture and stone-front fireplaces. Full breakfasts in the dining area are included in the room rates, and an 87- degree swimming pool lies at the ready. Room rates for couples usually run $80-$135 on weekends and in summer, $10 less at other times.

The Fog Catcher Inn, 6400 Moonstone Beach Drive, Cambria 93428; (800) 445-6868 or (805) 927-1400.

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